Monday, May 19, 2014

Symbolic Racism: A Look At The Science - 4

Nelson Mandela
One issue that has come up during this series is the notion that a culture can be racist even though some individuals who live within that culture can overcome racism, and even eradicate it in various degrees from their lives.

Yet, it can still persist in the culture around them.

Take the example of Columbus Day in our culture, a national holiday.

Why should a culture celebrate a day that memorialises  personal behavior which, today, would trigger the criminal prosecution of a pedophile, a slave trader, a despot, and a murderer?

A 48 page document found in 2006 mandates our taking notice:
Here is my assessment of Christopher Columbus. He was a genocidal megalomaniac. Now, looking at your faces, I can detect a significant level of intellectual discomfort, so let me prove this unsettling assertion. The sources of my evidence are as good as they get – primary journal entries from Columbus himself and from some of the crewman and priests who sailed with him.

Here is the man’s legacy: He bequeathed the New World two of the worst institutions in human history-the Slave and the Conquistador. It would take about 350 years for people of conscience to finally rid the world of slavery. And the Conquistador evil is still widespread on our planet. At this very moment there are indigenous tribes in the Amazon trying to protect their land and their way of life from lumber and cattle barons. And in Ecuador, international oil companies are destroying the habitat of jungle tribes whose ancestors lived there long before the word petroleum was even invented.

Genocide is the murder of a large number of people of one racial or ethnic strain. But Columbus did not just kill an enormous number; he actually eradicated the Taino Indians from the face of the earth. When he first landed in Hispaniola (currently Haiti and the Dominican Republic) it was estimated that there were around 1.2 million natives there. By 1550 – less than 60 years later – there was not a single one left. And from almost the moment that his ships arrived, these gentle Indians suffered an almost incomprehensible reign of terror.

The vicious power that Columbus and his sailors possessed was not the result of superior strength or intelligence or courage. It rested solely on having more advanced technology in the form of ocean-going ships and deadly weapons. To demonstrate his ruthless omnipotence, Columbus would punish Indians in the most hideous manner for minor offenses. He would command that a nose or ear be chopped off as a reminder to the rest of the population that he ruled supreme.

His merciless actions became so insufferable, that mass suicides, where 100 people would jump from a cliff, became commonplace. Women stopped trying to have children and would strangle their newborn rather than allow them to live and endure the agonies of the Spaniards. And along with the normal slavery of converting people into beasts of burden, Columbus also initiated sex slavery. He even bragged in letters back to the Old World that the most favored girls were only 9 or 10 years old. So, one can add pedophilia to his crimes against humanity.

As for his megalomania, what title did he insist on receiving from his royal patrons as payment for the slaves and stolen property that he brought back to Spain? His humble request was to be called “Admiral of the Ocean Seas.” Since this essentially includes all of the world’s oceans, it was comparable to a land-based dictator wishing to be addressed as the “Emperor of Earth.”

But beyond his atrocities and his arrogance, this is why I despise Columbus - because as long as we honor him rather than scorn him, we are reinforcing his code of conduct.
(Rhapsody on a Theme by Socrates, bold added; cf. here, here, and here). Our culture honors him via symbolic racism, which infects members of the culture who are too young to know:
"For example, children develop notions about ethnicity and race early in life, oftentimes even before they have interethnic or interracial contact. Children learn about other social categories, such as gender-or age-related groupings, through extensive interpersonal interactions, but young, preschool children often learn about those who are ethnically or racially different in the absence of personal contact." 86
(Symbolic Racism: A Look At The Science - 3). Eventually however, those cultural dynamics of symbolic racism do not directly belong to the individuals who learn the history and the background of racism, then reject it from their thoughts and actions.

The next post in this series is here, the previous post in this series is here.


  1. 29 things folks suffering from symbolic racism need to consider: Link

  2. The percentage of Presidents who owned slaves was at 100% at one time.

    It is down to Twenty-seven percent now (The Germ Theory - of Government - 7).

  3. Jim Crow complaint filed with EEOC: link